We all breathe in and out on average 22.000 times per day, but most of us will rarely pay attention to how we do it. 

So here we go. Let’s breathe in 10 times and make a few mental notes for yourself. Make sure you are relaxed. (Can repeat this exercise when you are working out and compare the two)

  • Are you breathing in and out through your nose or mouth?
  • What are your ribs doing when inhaling vs. exhaling? 
  • Is your belly moving much? 
  • How long does “one” breath take?
  • Are you holding it? If so, how long?
  • What are the shoulders doing? Do they have tension?

Sweet! All I wanted for you was to understand how you breathe and be more aware of your tendencies.

Relax. There is no right or wrong way to breathe. You have to do it ;-). However, once we understand how we tend to breathe, we can make adjustments to make it suit the task better. 

Things that will change the way we breathe;

  • Are we working out, or are we at rest?
  • What type of training are we doing; strength vs. cardio?
  • What’s the intensity of exercise?
  • Are we at an altitude?
  • What’s the weather like?

From studying how to best train pre and postpartum women, my most significant revelation was that it’s not so much about “do” or “don’t do” a particular movement. The most important thing is to coordinate your breath to the exercises you are familiar with doing.

We are taught to use a “Valsalva maneuver when lifting heavy weights.” 

  1. Take a big belly breath
  2. Close your glottis and exhale against it
  3. Perform the entire lift while continuing to exhale against your closed glottis
  4. Let the air escape after the exertion.
  5. Repeat the process for the next rep

This creates pressure on the back, internal organs, and chest, which helps your torso resist being bent or pushed out of position when throwing around heavy weights.

A great way of creating pressure and tension, but what if the person in question is pregnant or postpartum? Do we still advise them to do the same bracing maneuver?

NO, we adjust the way they breathe, brace, and distribute pressure internally so they can continue their exercises like deadlifting, squatting, and pressing movements. Modifying the breathing this way does not create excessive pressure on the abdominal wall. The other consideration is the load being lifted and would be adjusted based on how many weeks they are pregnant or post-delivery.

Two ways pregnant women can change their breathing during exercise.

  1. Dynamic breath; inhale on the way down / eccentric part of the lift, exhale on the way up / concentric portion.
  2. Full ROM exhale; here, you will breathe in before starting the repetition, exhaling through the eccentric, and exhaling during the concentric part. 

Why is this better? 

  1. There is less internal pressure on the belly that is already taking a big load with the growing baby.
  2. Every exhale will contract the pelvic floor and create extra support.
  3. Slowing down the movement, allowing to control better technique.

Postpartum women - I like to start them with coordinating their breath and creating a mind-muscle connection.

You can do this by lying down on your side or back, standing up, or sitting on your knees. Try the different positions and notice any differences?

Inhale through the ribs, let them expand, and let the belly relax while you inhale. The diaphragm and pelvic floor will lengthen when your lungs are filling up with air. 

Then when you exhale, think of gently pulling up a blueberry with your vagina to your chest. ( I know it sounds a bit weird, but hey, I’m trying to make you understand what to do, so bear with me) 

This will contract the pelvic floor(PF) and transversus abdominis (TA).

This explains how you can strengthen your inner-core muscles by just breathing, which is the first step to rehabbing your core, that will support you later on when starting to introduce weights again.

Once you have created awareness of how to breathe in a relaxed state, you can combine it with movements. Although you want to make it more subtle, we don’t need to do a max contraction when breathing before performing an air squat. Think of it as a 3/10 effort. 

If you find this article interesting and want to work more on your strength, whether you are just looking to get stronger, stay fit and healthy through pregnancy, or get back into fitness after giving birth. Join one of my “Ladies small group PT sessions” here at InnerFight, and I’ll teach you more of the goods! 

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